Updated on Nov 30, 2017

Best Airline Cards for 2017

Our top travel rewards cards offer everything from free flights to free baggage check.
By
Advertiser Disclosure

This page includes analysis of our favorite cards from Money360’s advertisers and the marketplace. Visit our advertiser disclosure to learn more.

Whether you’re a globetrotter or a frequent business traveler, or you just take the occasional vacation, airlines compete to be your top transportation choice. The aviation industry is ultra-competitive, and with all the different rewards programs, co-branded credit cards, and perks out there on the market, it can be overwhelming.

Summary

Best airline credit cards for 2017

Money360's best airline credit cards of  2017

That’s why we’ve developed a list of the Best Airline Cards of 2017, based on rewards rate, annual fees, foreign transaction fees, and signup bonuses. Once you’ve found the card and the rewards program that’s perfect for you, click Apply Now and earn points with confidence.

Best travel rewards for everyday spending

Discover it® Miles
Rewards Summary Unlimited 1.5x Miles per dollar on all purchases
Annual Fee $0

Foreign Transaction Fee 0%
Signup bonus N/A
Travel perks Mile-for-mile rewards match ; $30 in-flight Wi-Fi credit
Highlights Provided by Discover Show Highlights
Card Highlights Provided by Discover:
  • We'll match all the Miles you've earned at the end of your first year. For example, if you earn 30,000 Miles, you get 60,000 Miles.
  • Unlimited 1.5x Miles per dollar on all purchases, every day, with no annual fee.
  • No Blackout Dates - fly any airline, stay at any hotel.
  • Redeem your Miles as a statement credit towards travel purchases.
  • Freeze your account in seconds with an on/off switch either on the mobile app or website to prevent new purchases, cash advances, and balance transfers.
  • Get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
  • New! Receive FREE Social Security number alerts-Discover will monitor thousands of risky websites when you sign up.
  • No Annual Fee.
  • Issuer: Discover
  • Rewards Details: 1.5 Miles per dollar on all purchases.
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Balance Transfer Fee: 3%
  • Cash Advance APR: 25.99% Variable
  • Introductory APR: 0%
  • Introductory APR Period: 14 months
  • Introductory Balance Transfer APR: 10.99%
  • Introductory Balance Transfer Period: 14 months
  • Ongoing APR: 11.99% - 23.99% Variable

Our two cents

Who should get it

You want to earn unlimited miles on everyday purchases without conditions or restrictions. It’s a great fit for anyone looking for flexibility when redeeming travel rewards.

How to use it
  • Buy everything with this card, especially in the first 12 months. You can earn 1.5x miles on every purchase, every day, with no restrictions. The more you spend, the more you’ll get back at the end of the year with Discover’s mile-for-mile match promotion.
  • Pay off any large purchases during the 14 month, 0% intro APR period to avoid interest payments.
  • Monitor your FICO® Credit Score for free online or on your monthly statements.
Consider this

Since the Discover it® Miles isn’t technically an airline card, it doesn’t come with a juicy signup bonus up front. And while the mile-for-mile match at the end of your first year is a huge perk, you won’t be able to cash in on travel rewards upfront. Further, the miles you earn with this card aren’t transferable to airline or hotel loyalty programs, so you can’t pool points with your other accounts. If you’re looking for a card with a great signup bonus and points transfer, check out the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.

Why you'll love it

The Discover it® Miles card offers incredible earning potential on the things you buy every day — with no limits and no annual fee. Get this card if you’d rather collect travel rewards in cash (statement credits) than be tied to a specific airline.

Start your application now

Most flexible travel rewards

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Rewards Summary 2x points for travel and dining
Annual Fee $95 (Waived first year)

Foreign Transaction Fee 0%
Signup bonus 50,000 points
Travel perks No blackout dates or travel restrictions.
Highlights Provided by Chase Show Highlights
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Issuer: Chase
  • Rewards Details: 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases worldwide
  • Sign Up Bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Annual Fee: Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95
  • Balance Transfer Fee: Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
  • Cash Advance APR: 25.99% Variable
  • Foreign Transaction Fee: $0
  • Introductory APR: N/A
  • Introductory APR Period: N/A
  • Introductory Balance Transfer APR: N/A
  • Introductory Balance Transfer Period: N/A
  • Ongoing APR: 16.99% - 23.99% Variable
  • Penalty APR: None

Our two cents

Who should get it

You travel and dine out regularly. For busy professionals, this card just makes sense – especially if you’re already a Chase customer. (Points are transferrable between cards, so you can earn rewards faster!)

How to use it
  • Use this card when you book travel or dine out, both in the States and abroad.
  • Pair with Chase Freedom® (a popular cash back card) to collect points on everyday spending. Then combine your points!
  • Redeem your points through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® program and enjoy a 25% point bonus.
  • Transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards® Points to popular hotel or airline loyalty programs without a penalty.
Consider this

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card charges a $95 annual fee after your first year. Despite the upfront cost, you should make up the annual fee quickly if you travel often. If you’d prefer a travel card with no annual fee, consider the Discover it® Miles.

Why you'll love it

Easy point transfers. Flexible reward options. An incredible signup bonus. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card boasts one of the best rewards programs out there. It’s the perfect fit for frequent travelers who want to rack up rewards—and choose how to spend them.

Start your application now
Partner Offer Apply Now on American Express's secure website

Best travel perks

Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express
Rewards Summary 2x miles for Delta purchases Terms apply
Annual Fee $95 (Waived first year)

Foreign Transaction Fee 0%
Signup bonus 30,000 miles
Travel perks Starwood Crossover Rewards, priority boarding, and more
Highlights Provided by American Express Show Highlights
  • Earn 30,000 Bonus Miles after spending $1,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months and a $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months.
  • Earn 2 miles on every dollar spent on purchases made directly with Delta. Earn 1 mile for every eligible dollar spent on purchases.
  • Check your first bag free on every Delta flight - that's a savings of up to $200 per round trip for a family of four.
  • Settle into your seat sooner with Priority Boarding.
  • Enjoy a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • Terms Apply.
  • Issuer: American Express
  • Rewards Details: Earn 2 miles on every dollar spent on purchases made directly with Delta. Earn 1 mile for every eligible dollar spent on purchases.
  • Annual Fee: $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95 See Details
  • Cash Advance APR: 26.24% Variable
  • Foreign Transaction Fee: None
  • Introductory APR: N/A
  • Introductory APR Period: N/A
  • Introductory Balance Transfer APR: N/A
  • Introductory Balance Transfer Period: N/A
  • Ongoing APR: 16.74% - 25.74% Variable See Rates & Fees
  • Penalty APR: 29.99% Variable

Our two cents

Who should get it

You often travel with Delta. Frequent Delta fliers will find it easy to make up the $95 annual fee with baggage fee savings alone. Plus, you’ll get great perks including in-flight discounts, free bag check, and priority boarding.

How to use it
  • Use this card to buy Delta airfare and to take advantage of promotional point purchases from partners.
  • Pair this card with the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express to pool your points.
  • Enjoy free bag check, priority boarding, seat upgrades, and other in-flight perks when you fly with Delta.
Consider this

After your first year, you’ll be charged a $95 annual fee (fairly standard for airline and travel cards). If you aren’t a frequent traveler or you don’t live near a Delta hub, you might have trouble justifying the annual fee. The Discover it® Miles may be a better option if you want reward flexibility without an annual fee.

Why you'll love it

The Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express is made to benefit frequent travelers. Between the lucrative Starwood Hotels Crossover Rewards program and travel perks like free checked baggage, you’ll save big while traveling in style.

Start your application now

Great signup bonus

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card
Rewards Summary 2x points for Southwest® and Rapid Rewards® purchases
Annual Fee $69

Foreign Transaction Fee 3% of each transaction in U.S. dollars.
Signup bonus 40,000 points
Travel perks No blackout dates, seat restrictions or change fees
Highlights Provided by Chase Show Highlights
  • Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open
  • 3,000 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary
  • 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® Hotel and Car Rental Partner purchases
  • 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Earn unlimited points that don't expire as long as your card account is open
  • No blackout dates or seat restrictions
  • Bags fly free® and no change fees
  • Redeem your points for flights, hotel stays, gift cards, access to events and more
  • Issuer: Chase
  • Rewards Details: 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® Hotel and Car Rental Partner purchases. 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • Sign Up Bonus: Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open
  • Annual Fee: $69
  • Balance Transfer Fee: Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
  • Cash Advance APR: 25.99% Variable
  • Foreign Transaction Fee: 3% of each transaction in U.S. dollars.
  • Introductory APR: N/A
  • Introductory APR Period: N/A
  • Introductory Balance Transfer APR: N/A
  • Introductory Balance Transfer Period: N/A
  • Ongoing APR: 16.99% - 23.99% Variable
  • Penalty APR: None

Our two cents

Who should get it

You travel in the U.S. often and prefer to fly Southwest. This card is also a great option if you already have the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. These two cards work well together since you can transfer rewards points 1:1.

How to use it
  • Book all your Southwest airfare on this card to rack up points.
  • Pair this card with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. Transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards® points to your Southwest Rapid Rewards account to earn free flights faster.
  • Spend $1,000 on purchases in your first three months to earn 40,000 bonus points.
Consider this

Unlike many other airline cards, the $69 annual is not waived for the first year. Also, watch out for foreign transaction fees abroad. If you’re looking for an airline card without foreign transaction fees, check out the JetBlue Card.

Why you'll love it

It’s tough to beat a 40,000-point signup bonus after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. But with double points on select travel expenses and an annual anniversary bonus, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card keeps the rewards coming, even after the first three months.

Start your application now

The best airline credit cards: summed up

Recommended Card Best For...
Discover it® Miles Travel Rewards For Everyday Spending Apply Now
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card Most Flexible Travel Rewards Apply Now
Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express Partner Offer Travel Perks Apply Now
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card Great Signup Bonus Apply Now

What is a mile on a credit card?

A “mile” on a credit card is a unit of currency used in the card’s rewards program. Each mile is worth a set amount that you earn based on the number of actual miles you fly or the amount you spend on your credit card. These “miles” are then redeemed to buy airline tickets, often for free or at extremely reduced prices. Airline miles may also be referred to as frequent flyer miles or travel points and rewards.

What’s the difference between credit card rewards and miles?

The main difference is how you earn and use the rewards vs. miles. In general, credit card rewards can be earned based on the dollar amount spent on a wide variety of everyday purchases — from groceries to gas to dining and more, including travel. These rewards are then redeemed for cash back, a statement credit, travel rewards, and more, depending on the card. Airline miles are usually earned through a frequent flyer program with a specific airline, or through an airline credit card that offers rewards miles. With frequent flyer programs, you’ll earn miles for each flight you take and then redeem them for a free flight after accumulating enough miles. An airline credit card operates similarly to the best cash back credit cards or best rewards credit cards. With an airline credit card, you’ll earn rewards based on the dollar amount spent on certain purchases that can later be redeemed for travel rewards, such as a free flight or hotel stay.

What is a co-branded credit card?

A co-branded credit card is a card that is sponsored by two companies, usually a bank or credit card issuer (Visa, American Express, MasterCard, etc.) and a marketing partner (such as Delta or Southwest). One example is the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express, which is sponsored by both Delta and American Express. Co-branded credit cards can be used wherever the bank or card network (in this case, American Express) is accepted.

However, with co-branded credit cards, you’re more likely to earn specific discounts or rewards from the sponsoring merchant. For instance, with the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express, you can enjoy free bag check, seat upgrades, priority boarding, and other perks when you book a flight with Delta. You won’t enjoy those perks if you use the card to book with another airline.

Co-branded credit cards are a great option if you are brand-loyal to a specific airline. If, however, you’re not brand-loyal or you like to keep your options open, you may be better off with a more flexible airline card, like the Discover it® Miles or Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Airline/travel credit cards: how they stack up on strategy

Which card (or card combination) offers the best deal overall? Here’s a look at some pros and cons and potential strategies for maximizing your travel rewards:

Rewards rates

An airline card affiliated with a particular carrier may reserve its most generous rewards rate for purchases made directly from that airline. You might see a return of 2-3 points (or miles) for every dollar spent on airline tickets, while the rates for other purchases are commonly 1 point per $1. Other cards are sometimes more generous with rates for everyday purchases.

What about cards that aren’t affiliated with specific airline brands but still offer rewards points for travel purchases? The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is one example, offering 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide and 1X point on all other purchases.

Here’s a recap of the rewards rates for purchases offered by our top five airline credit cards:

Card Rewards rates
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
  • 2X points on travel and dining
  • 1X points on other purchases
Discover it® Miles
  • 1.5X Miles on all purchases
Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express
  • 2X miles on Delta purchases
  • 1X miles on other purchases
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card
  • 2X points on Southwest® purchases
  • 2X points on Rapid Rewards® Hotel and Car Rental Partner purchases
  • 1X points on other purchases
JetBlue Card (offer no longer available)
  • 3X points on JetBlue purchases
  • 2X points on dining and groceries
  • 1X points on other purchases

As you can see, not all airline cards have one-dimensional rewards programs. As for which type of card offers your ideal rewards rate, a great deal depends on your spending habits and goals.

Annual fees

Looking at the five cards profiled on this page, you see a bit of variation on annual fees:

If an annual fee (or lack of one) is your central concern in choosing a credit card, remember that many cards have generous rewards programs that can offset the cost of the fee. A lot depends on how frequently you plan to use the card and earn rewards.

Signup bonuses

For a quick comparison of signup bonuses, here’s a similar rundown of our top cards:

Some signup bonuses are more generous than others, and some easier to obtain than others. One way to approach a large bonus with a correspondingly large spending requirement could be to put a long-awaited big purchase on the card early on. This strategy is most advisable when the card also has a 0% introductory APR so you can avoid interest while paying off that big-ticket item.

Here’s one thing to note about the Discover it® Miles: Although the card doesn’t have a signup bonus like the others on this list, it does offer to automatically match all the miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year as a cardholder.

As with any type of credit card, it’s best to think about the value of the signup bonus and whether your spending habits make it easily attainable.

Secondary perks

As you might expect, benefits such as free checked luggage and priority boarding are often central to airline/travel cards and not offered by more general rewards cards. (For travelers who want to stay connected while conserving their wireless data, travel perks for the Discover it® Miles include a $30 in-flight Wi-Fi credit.)

Research the best airline credit cards

Below is a directory with the most popular airline miles credit cards available today. The directory is updated on a weekly basis to reflect any new changes, to add new cards, and to remove expired cards. The airline credit cards directory is a component of the rewards credit cards directory. This custom directory highlights the most important features for each airline card.

Airline credit card directory

In order to rank and value each of these airline cards, certain features were analyzed based on overall importance to the prospective cardholder. The most heavily weighted features of an airline card are Signup Bonus, Rewards Rate, and Perks.

Sort, filter, or search for what matters most to find the best airline credit card for you.

Sort By
Card Name
Perks Tier Level
Sign up Bonus Tier Level
Rewards Tier Level
Common Filters
Good Signup Bonus
Great Ongoing Rewards
Great Perks
No Annual Fee
Search
Credit Card
Annual Fee
Perks Tier Level
Sign up Bonus Tier Level
Apply Online
Credit Card
Annual Fee
Perks Tier Level
Sign up Bonus Tier Level
Apply Online
$75
Poor
* (?)
Poor
* (?)

Editorial Note: Compensation does not influence our rankings and recommendations. However, we may earn a commission on sales from the companies featured in this post. To view a list of partners, click here. Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by our advertisers. Reasonable efforts are made to present accurate info, however all information is presented without warranty. Consult our advertiser's page for terms & conditions.

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.